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Archives for September 2012

Oscar - a midfielder in the full sense of the word

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Tim Vickery | 08:35 UK time, Monday, 24 September 2012

Little more than a month into the season, new signing Oscar is already a Stamford Bridge sensation.

I must confess that I took a bit longer to be won over by him - before making up for lost time by coming to the conclusion that he could be the most important player Brazilian football has produced in a while.

I was at one of his very first matches for Internacional, a 3-0 defeat to Fluminense in the Maracana stadium in August 2010. He was brought on after 35 minutes, made a mess of everything he tried and was himself replaced after 57. It hardly matched the hype that was already surrounding him.

Three months later I saw him get a place in the starting line-up against Botafogo. He made little impression and was substituted once more. But before the game I talked to Inter's director Fernando Carvallo, one of the best talent spotters in the Brazilian game. Forget any early impressions, he said. This boy is the genuine article.

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Higher hopes for South America's World Cup players

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Tim Vickery | 09:11 UK time, Monday, 17 September 2012

World Cup qualification in Europe has a few good games along with plenty of mismatches. In South America, meanwhile, every game in the long campaign is resonant with rivalry and relevance.

The best development in the history of the continent's national teams was the birth of the Copa America in 1916 and its frequent, at times annual, staging in the early years. It did much to spread interest in the game and raise standards.

The second best was the inauguration in 1996 of the current World Cup qualification format, one big group with all 10 countries (in this case nine because as 2014 hosts Brazil have an automatic place) playing each other home and away.

Where previously there could be gaps of years between competitive games, for the last 17 years there has been a guaranteed calendar of regular meaningful matches. This has done wonders for the less traditional nations, and has led to a happy state of affairs where South American football has no minnows. No one is merely making up the numbers.

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Beaten Uruguay have no time to sulk

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Tim Vickery | 18:00 UK time, Sunday, 9 September 2012

In the context of a league campaign, a resounding win or a heavy defeat never ends at the final whistle. More important than the points won or lost can be the team's reaction. Can it rally in the face of adversity, or guard against excessive euphoria?

This is especially true in South America's marathon 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifiers, when two rounds are played together, and a team can play at one end of the continent on Friday and the other the following Tuesday.

Last week I picked out the match between Colombia and Uruguay as the most interesting tie of the seventh round, a clash right at the heart of the battle to qualify in recent campaigns. I also suggested there were signs that, after a two-year run of success, Uruguay might be on the downward slope.

It is too early to tell whether that supposition was correct - even though Uruguay were thrashed 4-0. One defeat, however comprehensive, does not necessarily mean a decline and things were always likely to be difficult in the scorching afternoon heat of Barranquilla. The proof will come in the way Uruguay react.

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Uruguay have cause for World Cup concern

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Tim Vickery | 08:39 UK time, Monday, 3 September 2012

World Cup qualification resumes in South America this Friday, with a question mark hanging over the team which have been the continent's form side over the past two years. Might the London Olympics mark an unwelcome turning point for Uruguay?

On the face of it there should be no cause for alarm. World Cup semi-finalists in 2010, Copa America champions last year, Uruguay's senior side have gone 18 games without defeat. They have made a solid start to the 2014 qualifiers. Leaders Chile sit out Friday's round, where a win for Uruguay would take them to the top of the table.

But from certain angles, in the light of what happened in the Olympics, the glass does not look quite so full. Part of this comes from the failure of the youngsters to take their Olympic opportunity. Uruguay's senior side is ageing. Some players will need replacing - or at the very least the emergence of options - before the next World Cup. But, eliminated in the group stage, the Under-23s had an appalling tournament. No reputations were enhanced.

And there is a more immediate concern. With Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani drafted in as over-age players, their Olympic goal power was taken for granted. But it never materialised. Having talented strikers is one thing, getting them to work together is another. It requires understanding, a willingness to sacrifice and a large dose of intelligence. The impression left by the Olympics is that, to get the best out of their strike force, Uruguay remain dependent on Diego Forlan, with his leadership, technical excellence and ability to read the game.

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